Last Thursday, I published a piece about the importance of finding the “right” franchise player to lead a basketball team to title contention, and in the process, may have suggested Jimmy Butler wasn’t a legitimate superstar. I doubt the five-time All-Star read my think piece and took it upon himself to prove me wrong, though Butler made a fool of me as he tallied 40 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists on the way to single-handedly carrying the Miami Heat to a much-needed victory in Game 3 of the 2020 NBA Finals.
Not only did Jimmy will the Heat to their first win of the series while potentially solidifying his status as a top ten player, but he also etched his name alongside some of the most dominant Finals performances to ever grace the hardwood. In fact, according to Basketball-Reference, his 42.0 Game Score, a statistic recorded since the 1983-1984 season, ranks second all-time behind a LeBron James masterpiece against the Warriors in a win-or-go-home Cavaliers triumph in Game 6 of the infamous 2016 Finals.
Of course, since Game Score excludes all playoff contests prior to 1984, it isn’t the perfect measure for determining the best outings in the annals of the NBA Finals. Wouldn’t Elgin Baylor and his 61 point clinic in Game 5 of the 1962 Finals sit somewhere around the top of the leaderboard if it met the cutoff date? And how on Earth does Tim Duncan falling two blocks short of recording the fifth quadruple-double in NBA history in a championship-clenching dub in 2003 rank 155th all-time? It sounds like a flawed system to me.
Context should matter just as much as the numbers do. So, does this take away from what Butler accomplished in a career-night? No, if anything, the circumstances surrounding him only serve to amplify the grandeur of what he was able to do minus Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic. And considering it came playing for an overachieving Eastern Conference fifth-seed in an unprecedented bubble setting down 2-0 against LeBron and Anthony Davis, one of deadliest duos in recent memory, is that enough to place Jimmy Buckets’ 40-point triple-double among the top ten single-game Finals performances ever?